"DEADLINE: I spoke days ago about the Wolf criticism with Leonardo, who never faced this before. It isn’t your first time at the rodeo, is it?
SCORSESE: Oh, I’ve been through it with Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull where people were repelled by the character. It happened with Rupert Pupkin in The King Of Comedy, and then all the way through the years and particularly with Goodfellas. Taxi Driver had elements that made it something else, but Goodfellas became a rallying cry against this kind of depiction of characters who do terrible things but enjoy themselves.
DEADLINE: How does this dust-up compare to those, and how does it feel for one of the great living directors to have to defend a movie he has made about bad guys?
SCORSESE: I have to say, I haven’t read anything. I’m given reports by people close to me and I have been through it, and had to answer questions like this one at screenings for the DGA and The Academy.
DEADLINE: What do you say?
SCORSESE: In Goodfellas, people either get killed, or they go to jail. The ones who get out clearly haven’t learned much, and complain because they can’t get good spaghetti sauce. Well, too bad. But here, the character goes to jail, but that doesn’t really mean much. He gets out and he starts all over. I don’t know about the real Belfort, I’m talking about the character. The main factor to be considered here is the mind-set and the culture which allows this kind of behavior not only to be allowed, but encouraged. And what they do is never shown. As a naïve young person I thought that in white collar jobs, people behaved a certain way, respectably. I’m sure there are people who do. But, I’m 71. And in the past 30 years or so, I’ve seen the change in the country, what values were and where they’ve gone. The values now are only quite honestly about what makes money. To present characters like this on the screen, have them reach some emotional crisis, and to see them punished for what they’ve done, all it does is make us feel better. And we’re the victims, the people watching onscreen. So to do something that has an obvious moral message, where two characters sit in the film and hash it out, or where you have titles at the end of the film explaining the justice, the audience expects that. They’ve been inured to it.
DEADLINE: What were you instead going for?
SCORSESE: I didn’t want them to be able to think problem solved, and forget about it. I wanted them to feel like they’d been slapped into recognizing that this behavior has been encouraged in this country, and that it affects business and the world, and everything down to our children and how they’re going to live, and their values in the future. It’s almost becoming like, these days in Hollywood, people misbehave, they have problems in their lives, drugs, alcohol, they go to rehab and come out again. And that means it’s okay, it’s an expected ritual you go through. You make a film about slavery, it’s important for young people to understand and see it vibrantly presented on the screen. And when you make a film that just points up and decries the terrible goings on in the financial world and the financial philosophy and the financial religion of America, we do that a certain way and it makes us feel okay, that we’ve done our duty, we’ve seen the film, given it some awards and it goes away and we put it out of our minds. By the way, Jordan and a bunch of guys went to jail, and even though they served sentences in very nice jails, the reality is jail isn’t nice and a light sentence is still a sentence. The lingering reality is, if you look at the last disaster this world created, who went to jail?SCORSESE: That’s right.
DEADLINE: It would make a fascinating movie, but I’ve always heard you’ll never show Hollywood how Hitler charmed Germany and Europe into being his accomplices in the Holocaust; you’d have to show his seductive side and nobody wants to risk appearing to glorify an indefensible figure. This is your latest collection of bad guys who killed or stole. Leonardo said you told him that you don’t judge your bad guys. What are your rules for depicting loathsome people onscreen?
SCORSESE: I don’t know if I’d call them rules. I grew up in an area where as far as I knew, this was the world. It was an area in Manhattan, an old, old fashioned culture. An evil culture. I knew them first as human beings. Some were nice to children and other people around them, and would help other families. Some were not nice at all. Later on, I discovered a number of them were not wholesome characters, to say the least. To say the least. Yet, I also knew some of them were genuinely good people forced by circumstance or their own human weakness into a life of doing bad things. But they were basically decent people. It happens. People do it in war, people do it in business. People do it in love. This is about human weakness. If we don’t recognize it, if we don’t say it exists, it’s not going to go away. The hell with us, we’re old, but what about the young ones. What are we going to do, put some political correct ribbon over it? No. There is evil in us.
DEADLINE: You’ve said this movie was an expression of anger…SCORSESE: More like frustration, really. I’m just sick of it.
DEADLINE: You’re 71, your films withstand the test of time, you’ve got a little one running around. How do you summon anger and intensity with all these nice things swirling around you?
SCORSESE: Because, it’s not fair. There has to be something that can be determined as fair business code. Business is not just buying and selling. It’s how you treat people. I may treat people terribly, I don’t know. Maybe in some cases I do know. I can’t judge that. But when you say I don’t judge the characters, what I meant when I said that to Leo is, the author’s stance on the character is obvious here, so we’re taken off the hook. We didn’t need to put an outsider’s perspective on it. We had to go all the way, be forced to look at yourself. Times in my life, were my acts moral or immoral? Was I right or wrong? Did I do even worse than he does? All I can show is what he does, and I do not like it. I do not like it. I’m furious with it. But, there are still some people I grew up with, they are the most charming people you’ve ever met. You would not want to be with them, though.
DEADLINE: It is notable that you resisted wrapping this in a bright, shiny moralistic package.
SCORSESE: It wouldn’t mean anything. People would accept it and forget about it. You see that on television, like every two seconds. It no longer means something. I felt here that if we were going to try and say it, let’s do it, full out. Be as open about it as possible. "Read the rest of Mike Fleming Jr's Q&A with Martin Scorsese in Deadline, but I hope you'll let me know what you think about the whole controversy before you go. Scorsese says he's furious with Belfort's conduct but clearly as a storyteller he's compelled to tell his story. Fair enough?